Friday, December 26, 2008


A story about UNWRA & non-UNWRA refugees.


This fascinating story begins on the slopes of the Carmel mountains. During the War of Independence, Arab villages in the area were abandoned - as in all the areas where the Jews enjoyed strategic superiority - and their inhabitants became refugees. Today, we call those refugees "Palestinians". Farming communities and kibbutzim were established on the ruins of Arab villages that became home to Jewish refugees - refugees who streamed here from Europe after the Holocaust and from the Arab world that expelled the Jews from their midst.

What has happened since to both sets of refugees?

The Jewish refugees have long forgotten their refugee status. The country that absorbed them, the Jewish state, has turned them into its own flesh and blood. The transit camps have become cities, villages and farming communities, and within a decade not one single person remained a refugee in this country.

The Arab refugees, however, have maintained their refugee status. The countries they fled to, Arab countries, have chosen not to grant them citizenship, not to grant them rights and a future, and to leave them as refugees serving as live propaganda and a political weapon against the legitimacy of the Jewish state. The refugee camps have become the biggest hothouse for creating terror, a never-ending well of hatred and incitement towards Israel, towards America and towards anyone who is not an Arab Muslim.

UNRWA is the agency whose sole mandate is to take care of Arab refugees. As opposed to the UN Commission for Refugees, the body that takes care of all the other refugees in the world, UNRWA isn't authorized and doesn't attempt to rehabilitate the refugees, to naturalize them in the countries they are residing in or in a third country, or to give them the opportunity for a life other than that of refugees. Instead of solving the problem, UNRWA reinforces it. This is also the reason why only the Palestinian refugees who are registered with UNRWA preserve their refugee status from generation to generation. If your father was a refugee, then you are also defined as a refugee and so is your son. This is a unique and unacceptable definition. According to the UN Commission for Refugees, a refugee is only one who was expelled himself from his country due to a war. His sons will already be raised in another place after a period of rehabilitation. Tens of millions of refugees from all over the world have been rehabilitated in this way since World War II - with the exception of one national-ethnic group: Israeli Arabs, the Palestinian refugees.

And then, one Tuesday in August, the UN Commission for Refugees announced that it is sending 200 Palestinian refugees to be rehabilitated in Scandinavia. They will be absorbed by the governments of Sweden and Iceland and will construct new lives for themselves. Why were these 200 people awarded this privilege? In what way are they different from the hundreds of thousands crammed into Gaza, one big refugee camp?

The answer is simple. These refugees were never under UNRWA's umbrella. Because they were enlisted - while still on the Carmel mountains - into the Iraqi army that participated in the Israeli War of Independence in 1948. Together with their families, they withdrew with the army to Iraq. They weren't granted civilian status there, but they also didn't encounter UNRWA. Today, when they became refugees for the second time following the American-led war in Iraq, they were put on the UNHCR's refugee list, which is, after all, the UN commission for "normal" refugees - those who are to be rehabilitated, as opposed to the refugees under the auspices of UNRWA, whose refugee status is destined to be perpetuated.

The residents of Kerem Maharal and Geva in the Carmel can relax. The Arabs who lived there several years before them won't return, and they are not even waiting for them in Jabalya or in Nahar El-Barid. They boarded the plane to Scandinavia and, instead of the energies their brothers invest in cultivating suicide bombers, they will likely invest in establishing themselves financially and in building new lives, sixty years late.


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